The invitation was too good to pass up: Shadow none other than Shaun White at the Pyeongchang Games.
As the hand-picked successor to the snowboarding icon, teenager Toby Miller jumped at the chance, even bringing along his board. He received a behind-the-scenes look at what White went through in capturing a third Olympic gold medal last year.
Another offer: Take a ride through the Pyeongchang halfpipe. Just to get a taste.
That one he declined. Miller’s saving that honor for when he actually earns his own spot.
All those tips from White will come in handy Friday morning when Miller competes in the halfpipe final at the world championships in Park City, Utah.
His mentor won’t be in the field. But he will be using his mentor’s pointers against the competition.
“I couldn’t ask for a better person to have on my side,” said Miller, who turns 19 on Valentine’s Day. “He’s every kid’s snowboarder superhero and honestly he doesn’t seem like a real person until you meet him. So the first time I ever met him, I’m not going to lie, I was a little star-struck. I was 12 years old and I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s Shaun White!’”
They train together, something that started after they were introduced through a coach in a right-place-right-time sort of deal. They’ve traveled to contests together. They hang out together, mainly playing video games. Miller said he’s the better Call of Duty player, while White rules at Halo. Really, though, their bond revolves around boarding.
That’s why White took Miller with him to Pyeongchang last February, just to experience what it was like so Miller’s ready when the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing roll around.
“Being there with him and seeing all the things that take place after you win the gold, it’s insane,” Miller said.
White’s gold-medal run happened to be on Miller’s 18th birthday. That morning, they celebrated by eating birthday cake. Miller also gave White a pre-final pep talk because even the best get nervous.
“The gist of the talk was basically me telling him, ‘You’re the best halfpipe rider in the world. You do this better than anybody so just go have fun and show them what you’re made of,’” Miller said.
White did precisely that, too, with an incredible final run that included a trick he patented — the Double McTwist 1260. White topped Ayumu Hirano of Japan and Scotty James of Australia.
The high-risk, high-reward performance made quite an impression on Miller.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Shaun is just his mentality,” Miller said. “He can win an event but that’s not good enough for him. He’s going to do everything in his power to better himself. Even if he’s the best in the world, he still wants to be better.
“I’m trying to take that mentality as well.”
Being tutored by White comes with plenty of weight. So Miller uses it to his advantage.
“Pressure is good, because without pressure that means no one’s expecting you to do well,” the young boarder from California said. “I had a lot of pressure on myself to do well but then when other people add pressure to me as well it makes me want to be even better.”
Miller’s got the big tricks, sticking back-to-back 1260s in an event in Copper Mountain that momentarily vaulted him into the lead before he was bumped off the top spot by James. That was a huge confidence boost and Miller plans to go even bigger at the world championships. The field for the final is loaded with big names such as James and 2014 Sochi Games gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov.
“There’s so much progression to be had,” said Miller, who combined with Sebbe de Buck and Mons Roisland to win a team snowboarding competition at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge in December. “I think the next four or even eight years is going to be fun to watch to see how fast the sport progresses.”
He’s hoping to lead the charge. Should he qualify for the Olympics in 2022 and if White is no longer competing, there’s a standing invitation to be his invited guest.
“Of course I want Shaun to come to every single event whether he’s competing or not,” said Miller, who’s taking classes through Westminster College in Salt Lake City. “He’s just a great person to have around. It’s serious snowboarding and then when we get done it’s like, ‘Let’s have fun.’”
As for following in White’s footsteps, Miller concedes that’s a challenge.
“There’s never going to be another Shaun White. He’s the legend,” Miller said. “So I’m going to do everything in my power to be the best snowboarder I can be and hopefully make a legacy of my own one day.”